This post is part of the series Malaysia
Other posts in this series:
Travel Stories to Inspire Your Wanderlust
Learn More about Malaysia!
Let’s move ahead to the reason why I decided to visit Malaysia in 2017 – the Perhentian Islands! The name “Perhentian” is to be pronounced as Perhen-tee-ahn, not Perhen-shen (as many Australians do).
The Perhentian Islands are located in the warm-water coral reef of South China Sea, 19 km off the coast of north-eastern Malaysia, and 64 km south from the Thai border. What does the name mean? The word “Perhentian” means “stopping point” in Malay – back in the days, the islands were an important stopover for the trading route between Bangkok and Malaysia. I can easily imagine why the merchants did choose exactly these two small paradise spots …
The two islands Pulau Besar (big island) and Pulau Kecil (small island) became my secret paradise and after arriving here, I didn’t want to leave! Never. Why a secret? Due to the fact that the islands are actually not well-known (even) by the locals, they are still “virgin” in a sense of mass tourism, pollution, traffic and frivolous buildings.
The Perhentians can rightly be proud of their taintless beaches, wild nature and highly biodiverse coral reefs! One of my absolute favourite things about the Perhentian Islands is the fact that they have no roads at all! This also means no heavy development and useless civilization!
There are also three smaller and uninhabited islands: Susu Dara, Seringgi and Rawa. The locals call them “Baby Islands”. All three of them belong to a protected marine park – fishing, collecting corals is strictly forbidden and illegal!
When to Go?
You can visit the Perhentian Islands (only!) from the beginning of March until late October. The islands are literally closed during November, December, January and February due to the eastern monsoon. Not only the islands but also all other east coast islands are affected by the weather condition during this time of the year! The eastern monsoon is NOT a funny thing… Don’t believe the travel-agents if they try to convince you that all accommodations are open. They are not!
When asking about the weather, our diving teacher had the following question: “Do you see the restaurant over there?” while pointing with his forefinger toward nothing … And then he said: “Yes. There is no restaurant. But it was the best one last year before the monsoon came.”
These are some photo examples from the last day before leaving the Island – I was snorkelling near the Baby Islands. The Monster Clouds came from nowhere … and I, without being religious, started praying to all Gods that I know… The last photo is from the last morning and the Thunderstorm that I will never forget! And this had nothing to do with the eastern monsoon – imagine how it looks like during the months between November and February!
How do you get to the Perhentian Islands?
In the last couple of days, we were staying in George Town, Penang (you can find my posts about Penang here). We were flying with Fireflyz Fly (you can choose between Malaysia Airline and Air Asia when flying from Kuala Lumpur) from Penang to Kota Bharu, which took about 45 minutes. After we arrived at the airport, we took a taxi to Kuala Besut which is another 70 minutes / 55 km.
From Kuala Besut, you can take the speedboat (45 min, RM 70 two-way ticket) or slow boat (1.30 h, RM 40 two-way ticket). You can choose from plenty of boat operators once you have reached Kuala Besut. You’ll have to pay an additional 30 RM National Park marine fee for travelling to the Perhentian Islands. It costs only 5 RM if you are a local.
Warning! Pack up any electronics, your passport and documents in plastic bags! It can get very wet, anytime.
Warning! The speedboat operators are not always following the safety rules and they do often boarding much more passengers than allowed. Complain about overloading at police number 999 and the Malaysian ministry of tourism if you notice any strange circumstances.
The speedboat will take you to your accommodation. Only a few accommodations have their own pier. First option: you’ll be waiting on a small wooden island until a smaller boat comes and takes you to your accommodation (extra RM 2). Second option: you’ll have to carry your bags the whole way (sand beach!) from the main pier to your hotel. Lucky us! Our Hotel was on the main Pier …
To return from the islands to Kuala Besut you have to take one of the boats at 8:00, 12:00 or 16:00. You should make a reservation one day before you leave the island.
Warning! When you’re flying from Kota Bharu, make sure you have enough time for getting to the mainland! Depending on the weather conditions, the boats can be easily cancelled! (Of course, that is what happened to us…). But because I knew this could happen, I have booked a Hotel in Khota Bharu for one night, before flying to Singapore.
Pulau Besar (Big Island) or Pulau Kecil (Small Island)?
There are absolutely no museums, bigger shops, monuments, discos or fancy restaurants on the islands. Thank goodness for this! The white sand beaches, the crystal clear turquoise water with the greatest marine bio-diversity, are the highlight of the Perhentians. Well, both off the islands are insanely beautiful and both of them are much more expensive comparing them with the rest of Malaysia. Which island you’ll choose to stay at, is normally decided by the kind of traveler you are.
Pulau Besar has more family-friendly accommodations, as well as honeymooners’ luxury villas. The bigger island is more isolated and there are even less restaurants and places where you can eat something outside your accommodation. Pulau Kecil attracts younger travellers, free-spirit travellers and backpackers. The food on Kecil is cheaper, as you have several opportunities to eat outside your accommodation.
The smaller Island has the most beautiful beach as well – the Long Beach. Kecil also has Coral Bay beach – the only place on both islands where you can watch the sunset!
Of course, we’re heading for the Small Island – Kecil!
Where should you stay on the Perhentian Islands?
This is also tricky! Only several accommodations are partners of online booking websites. Those who are, are expensive. But when travelling from Innsbruck (Austria) to the Perhentian Islands (South China Sea), you don’t want to sleep on the beach for one week… So I had no choice than to book our accommodation online. If you have the same issue, try to book 3 Months in advance! I saved a loooot of money by doing so! It was twice the price 6 weeks before our “check-in” date. When you want to book online, I would recommend comparing Agoda and Booking.com.
Otherwise, you can contact your accommodation via email, Facebook or Twitter.
Many of the backpackers take their chance and arrive on the island as early as possible to grab rooms when the people are checking-out – but it’s a risk especially during the main season.
My personal recommendation is the place we chose to stay in: BUBU Long Beach! It was for sure the best accommodation located on the Long Beach, the service was great and the food – fantastic! My favourite part of our stay in BUBU, is definitely the view!
ATMs in the Perhentian Islands
Make sure you have enough cash when travelling to Perhentians! There are no ATMs on the Islands.
Using Electronics and Internet
Good to know is the fact that Perhentians still use generators to produce electricity. That means – drop outs are not to be excluded (especially in the afternoons). Only the “best” resorts have power 24h/day (again, BUBU wins!). All the others have power only during the night. So charge your electronics during the night!
The Wi-Fi and other internet options are very slow. But you have the paradise surrounding you, so why would you need an Internet connection?
Diving and Snorkeling
I always wanted to learn how to scuba dive! And what a better place than the Perhentian Islands! Many would say, the best of the Perhentians’ lies under the water. Generally, all activities on the Perhentians are “limited” to sunbathing, scuba diving, snorkelling, swimming, sea-kayaking, fish feeding, turtle conservation volunteering and enjoying the life. And hiking. And beach hopping.
There are many dive schools on both islands. On Kecil, you can find those scattered along Long Beach and a couple in Coral Bay. I can recommend you the “Turtle Bay Divers”, located on the Long Beach, Kecil Island.
We booked a PADI Diving Course on the first day, right after arriving … and on the second day (and one hour of scuba diving and trying not to panic underwater) I quitted. I felt miserable. I cried. I was disappointed by myself. I wanted to see the turtles. And the sharks. And I wanted to find Nemo!
And I did all of this! God bless the “Snorkeling”! The water visibility around the Perhentian Islands during the summer months is absolutely excellent! I took three snorkelling excursions to the best spots by boat – I met my new friends and sweetest Girls (ever!) from Kuala Lumpur, I found Nemo, I met all his family, got scared by the reef sharks, and then by the manta rays, and I saw the Turtles! The turtles that brought me to Malaysia… And I cried again, but this time out of joy.
Never give up your dream! Not all roads lead to Rome, but enough of them do…
… And here is a much better one! Follow my Snorkeling Guide who works at BUBU Resort! He posts some incredible marine life photos from the Perhentians! …
Attention! NEVER, EVER touch or kick the reef! Never touch marine life while snorkelling or diving! It takes months, sometimes even years for the corrals to recover after being damaged!
*A special thanks goes to Hasliza, who saved my post with the following underwater images! If you’re reading this: “Thank you! You are the best!”
Let replace the word “partying” with “chilling”, because this is what the party does look like. Although there are almost no restaurants and bars on the Kecil Island, there are still more than on the bigger island. If you want to have some alcohol, it is definitely more expensive than on the mainland.
In the evening, the most favourite place among the chillers is the bar called “BAR”. The BAR 😀 is actually a beach shack that turns into a bar after 7 p.m. Here you can choose between (wow!) 4 types of beer and they do even have some rum and vodka (double wow!!). The BAR “owner” is a Swedish guy who also (with another 3 local guys) is the main actor during the daily fire-show!
There are many walking tracks which all lead through the wild forest (jungle). If you are lucky, you may (not) spot the wildlife of the Perhentians: huuuuge monitor lizards, monkeys, nesting turtles, giant fruit bats, snakes (of course), etc. during your hike or walk. If you’re not one of these people with excess energy, the only transport option for you is water taxi. The prices are negotiable, but beach hopping should not cost more than RM 12, and island hopping – RM 20.
We spent a whole week on the Perhentian Islands – the best Islands you can visit in Malaysia when it comes to marine life, snorkelling, diving and water sports!
What is your favourite Island?! Curious to read about it!
Enjoy the day!
*This post contains Affiliate Links. I only recommend high-quality items and services I am confident about. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.
Continue reading this series:
My 10 most valuable insights into life from the last 10 Years ~ Fire Show
On the second day of our Phi Phi Islands trip, we joined a full day speed boat tour to Bamboo